gone_byebye: (are you crazy? is that your problem?)
It's early evening in the Republic of the Congo on the other side of the door. The creatures of the forest are making their usual noises; the bugs of the region are competing with one another to see who will survive the night's onslaught of birds and other creatures; and a somewhat wide-eyed, dark-skinned scientist is standing at the edge of a forest clearing, trying- without much success- to communicate with a massive robotic carnosaur half-concealed by the foliage around him.

"Dr. Ndebele? Grimlock?" Ray calls. "We're here..."

Organic and mech alike look up at th at.
gone_byebye: (oh god it's gonna eat me)
Their radio was working, technically. Ray had to admit that. They could raise the pilot of their airplane back at the landing strip.

They had some capacity for self-defense. Dr. Ndebele had brought some conventional firearms along with his tranquilizer rifle, and Ray, while proton packless, had his lightsaber with him.

They even had a reasonably strategic location, in a clearing big enough to give them some warning of anything that might be coming at them out of the jungle in any given direction.

But Ray had been reading the Spates Catalog of Otherworldly Denizens and Designations aloud to Dr. Ndebele once he located an entry on lloigor lifted directly from Seaton's Congo notes, and Ndebele had been telling Ray all the details he could remember of the creature in the darkness, and their radio only really got through in fits and starts. Really, it was inevitable that when the trees in the distance started to crack and crash, the two men would freeze.

They drew straws to see who would leave the tent and see what it was. Ray lost. Ndebele readied his guns. It could, after all, just be an elephant in musth. It might even only be a true Mokele-mbembe. Either of those were dangerous enough without being horrors from beyond the stars. He waited at the tent entrance, tense and ready, and watched as Ray drew one of the meters from his belt. Its little electronic arms hung limply in midair, refusing to move; Ray thumped it with the heel of his hand.

The cracking drew closer. There was a great bellowing cry. Ray dropped the useless meter and reached for the cylinder hanging on his belt instead. Ndebele had just long enough to wonder why he was reaching for a flashlight when the green 'saber blade ignited.

Ahead of him, at the edge of the clearing, the upper trees began to part. Ndebele lifted his rifle, making ready to aim at whatever might emerge. Twin pinpoints of blue peered through the shadows of the trees, and something rumbled-

"!" said Ray, as nearly as Ndebele could tell- and dashed forward to meet the creature. Ndebele swore and ran out of the tent in time to see a monstrous thing that resembled a predatory dinosaur in the way that a tank might resemble an ankylosaurid peering down at the man.

"Dr. Stantz," called Ndebele quietly. "Dr. Stantz!"

The grey-sided thing (all armor plate and gleaming segments, its head as huge and terrible as he remembered it) turned to look his way.

Ndebele stood his ground. "Dr. Stantz, stop hugging the monster's leg."

The creature's blazing blue eyes narrowed as it turned to peer at Ray again, and it rumbled something that Ndebele recognized as very badly pronounced Baka. Ray looked up. "Thank you," he said, all the relief in the world in his voice.

"I didn't do any-"

"Not you, Dr. Ndebele," said Ray. "I'm talking to him." He backed away from the monstrous thing's leg and pointed to its head instead.

"…what." Judging by the look on the monster's face, it was entirely possible that it felt the same way.

"For not being a Cthulhian horror," Ray said, almost cheerfully. "Hey! Grimlock! Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong!"

The creature lifted one forearm, exposing the shining bits of metal that lay under the armor plating, and did a very creditable imitation of a human dragging one hand over his face.
gone_byebye: (oh god it's gonna eat me)
As Ray returned to the camp in the Lake Tele jungles, Dr. Ndebele looked up. "Dr. Stantz. We have visitors," he said.

"People visitors, or claws and snarls and fire visitors?" Ray asked immediately. On jobs like this it never hurt to be sure.

"People visitors," said Ndebele. "And the kind without guns, at that. But there is a problem."

He stepped aside to indicate two men of a little under five feet tall each. They were both considerably darker-skinned than Ndebele himself, with equally short hair, but they wore fairly Western-looking clothing. Their footgear appeared handmade, though, and they carried well-worn knives. One of them, who looked somewhat older than his companion, leaned on a walking-stick as he glanced, unimpressed, at Ray. The other tilted his head expectantly and said something in French.

"… um. Malheureusement? Je suis seulement un American?" Ray tried. "Dr. Ndebele, please tell me you can translate-"

"That would be the problem," said Ndebele dryly. "These are Mokoloba and Dondolo, of the Baka people of this region. They had been following us through the jungle to see what your intentions were. Mokoloba says that Dondolo can tell you of the creature who attacked the bushmeat men… but Dondolo speaks no French, and I speak no Baka."

"Huh boy."

Judging by the Baka men's responses, that translated well enough on its own.

Several hours later, Dondolo's information was finally hashed out. It ran something like this:

"There has been a creature in these jungles larger than any elephant since a hundred years ago. A thunderstone fell from the skies in midsummer. My grandfather's father first heard the creature after that, when he was young. It howled like a mad thing, driving the game away; he went to look for it. The beast that he saw was caught in the mud, thrashing, and its eyes burned like fire. It tore at the trees but could not pull itself free, and it sank from sight."

"My grandfather's father saw it again years later, when the hunters came from England to find the Mokele-mbembe and shoot it-"

"The creature wasn't the Mokele-mbembe, then?" Ray interrupted.

Dondolo shook his head. "No. It was not. He would have known the river beast on sight. This was something else."

Ray glanced at Ndebele, who only lifted his shoulders a little. "Go on," Ray said.

"The hunters asked my grandfather's father to help them find the river beast. He brought them to the place it was last seen, but he found no sign of it. Only strange tracks, like something that walks upright, but huge. He remembered the creature in the mud, and tried to tell the Englishmen, but they did not listen. When they drew close to where the creature had sunk he asked them to turn back, but they would not. It came at them out of the forest then, and they shot at it, but it shouted at them."

"Really."

"Yes." Dondolo fingered his stick. "The creature spoke to them in Baka. It wanted to know why they were shooting at it. But they were so afraid that they ran off before he could translate, and did not come back."

"Huh." Ray considered this. "What did your great-grandfather do?"

"He was afraid of the creature too," said Dondolo, "but he stood where he was, and it only looked at him. It said it wanted to sleep and grow strong, or else it would chase him too. Then it turned and went back into the jungle, and he did not see it again in his lifetime."

Ray started to nod at that, but there was something about the phrasing that bothered him. As he turned the possibility over he said, "Has anyone else seen it?"

"My father's second wife," said Dondolo. "She came of the Bangombe tribe. When she was a young woman the men of the Bangombe had built a fence in their river to keep Mokele-mbembe from interfering with their fishing. A river beast broke through anyway, and the men killed it. There was a great feast of victory afterwards, but she did not take part, because she did not feel well. She was gathering firewood when she heard the creature in the forest, and saw two burning blue eyes far, far overhead. It started to bend down to look at her, but she was afraid, and she ran. She says it called to her in Lingala, asking her to return, but she did not listen. When she returned to the spot with the men who were willing to come away from the feast, it was gone. It left only wrecked trees and burned growth where it walked. All the men who came with her grew sick and died afterwards."

Ray glanced at Ndebele, then back at Dondolo. "How quickly?"

"Within a week," was the answer. "As if all their insides were trying to escape."

"Eew. What about your father's second wife?"

"She did not take sick," Dondolo said, "though she was so frightened at the creature, and at the falling of the men, that she was only too happy to marry my father and leave that place."

"Sensible of her," Ray murmured. "Thank you, Dondolo. Anything else?"

"It has been awake lately," was the answer. "I have seen it moving, myself. Something great and shining grey, its back like a wet lizard-"

That was when the memory hit him, of a small, slender volume squashed into the Miskatonic library, a book by an explorer named Seaton who had visited the Congo in the 1850s. The Sleeping Gods are vortices of power in natural form, and may not be seen by human eyes, ran the Seaton account. On rare occasions they can draw together bodies for themselves, to lure men to them for service. These bodies are monstrous and bear some resemblance to enormous reptiles, though inspection reveals their utter dissimilarity to any reptiles that ever walked the face of the earth. Such close inspection is not advised, however. . .

Ray shivered a little, nodded, and thanked the men. He'd never been so glad that he'd packed the Spates Catalog along with him in his life, but he was pretty sure he wasn't going to get any sleep tonight.
gone_byebye: (reach)
As the Piper Cub skidded to a stop, Ray privately resolved never, never, ever to complain about the final approach to La Guardia Airport again. This close to the Lake Tele Community Reserve, airstrips were on the distinctly tiny side; you built where you could find solid enough ground to maintain your work. The La Guardia approach just dropped you over Jamaica Bay. This? Put you within smash-into range of trees that were probably older than the United States of America.

"It's all right," said Dr. Ndebele, catching sight of the look on Ray's face. "I hate small planes too."

"Was it that obvious?"

Ndebele pointed to Ray's hands; he'd gouged some neat little half-moons out of the seat, and there were bits of foam stuck under his fingernails.

"Whoops. Sorry."

Ndebele laughed. "It's all right. Come on, it's not far from here. . . Congratulations, by the way."

"On what?"

"On dressing like a sensible person. You have no idea how many travelers I've seen who had all the wrong ideas about how to prepare for swamp forest."

"I have a certain familiarity with the biome," said Ray, who'd never in his life imagined that he'd be thankful for his time in Nyissa. "There were more snakes last time, though."

"Hah. No, not so much of that here," said Ndebele. "The occasional water cobra or mamba, and some pythons. Though I would watch out for crocodiles, if I were you."

"That's all right. I get along pretty well with reptiles."

Ndebele gave him an odd look. "If you say so," he said. "Come. From here we have a great deal of walking to do."

'Walking' wasn't the right word for it. 'Slogging' was probably closer. The route Ndebele took passed through areas that hadn't seen dry ground in years; the forests were permanently flooded here, with the only variations being seasonal levels of muck. Ray had spent long enough in Nyissa that he'd packed along all kinds of insect repellents for the trip, but he couldn't avoid the thought of Nyissan river leeches, and whether they had any analogues here on Earth. Those suckers were nasty. As he tried to push the thought out of his mind, something brushed against his shoulder.

"Dr. Stantz," said Ndebele quietly, "don't move."

Ray froze. Sliding his eyes sideways, he spotted a blunt, reptilian head resting comfortably on his backpack strap. He'd have reached for Garion's amulet if he could, but… Well, at least it was next to his skin, anyway. It should still work. "Hey there," he said, very quietly.

Hey, the snake answered back amiably enough.

"Do you mind? We're just passing through."

Oh? Where're you going? inquired the snake. It didn't lift its head, but it flickered its tongue briefly.

"Dr. Stantz-"

"I'm working on it," Ray said. Then he turned his attention back to the snake as best he could without moving his head. "We're headed for the lake. Hey, you haven't seen anything the size of a couple of elephants stacked together lately, have you?"

Oh, the one who shakes the ground? the snake answered. Sure. I make a point of avoiding him, but he's come out of torpor. Be careful, he's dangerous.

"Thanks," said Ray, and the snake lifted its head and returned to the tree branch. Ndebele was staring at him. "What?"

"That," said Ndebele, "was a forest cobra. They don't like humans."

"I told you," said Ray, "I get along with reptiles. Lots and lots of practice. Shall we go?"

Ndebele shook his head, still eyeing Ray, and turned back to the path before them.

A few hours later Ray had had about as much of Earth's jungles as he ever really wanted to deal with. At least one of the Nyissan compounds had no discernible effect on the local insects. Nature, it seemed, still felt that he belonged in the city and was going out of her way to make that clear to him. Ndebele took it with amusement and a murmur of "You get used to it after a while. We all do," but it wasn't much comfort. "Are we almost there?" Ray asked.

"Oh, yes. Do you hear that?" Ndebele cocked his head in the direction of a low, grunting noise. "That would be the swamp monkeys. The bushmeat men go after them often- they had killed several the night of the encounter. . ."

Ray wasn't listening. He was peering up into the canopy at a tree that gave every impression of having been set aflame twenty feet above the ground, but doused by rain thereafter. Ndebele nodded. "There was fire that night," he said soberly. "It did not come from me, and it did not come from the hunters. And there was no lightning. The mokele-mbembe does not breathe fire, Dr. Stantz. None of the stories have ever made that claim."

If Venkman were there, he would've said something on the order of we're gonna need a bigger boat. Ray just gulped and nodded.
gone_byebye: (civvies)
Ray stepped out of Milliways and back into the Laico Hotel Maya Maya. The Bar didn't generally grab him randomly, but it happened from time to time if something important enough was happening. K's getting nabbed and his memory mangled probably counted. He'd have to think about that later, though; there was a man on the other side of the lobby who rather nicely matched the descriptions and photographs the State Department had given him. Ray stuck up an arm and waved. "Dr. Ndebele?" he called, hoping he'd pronounced it right. "Dr. Joseph Ndebele? Over here, sir."

Dr. Ndebele was a dark-skinned man with close-cropped hair, a broad face, and round, wire-rimmed glasses. He wore a blue linen suit that buttoned up neatly around the neck like a Nehru jacket, and he carried a steel briefcase. At the sound of his name he looked up and smiled. "Ah," he said in English, "Dr. Stantz, is it? Or do I call you Ambassador for this?"

"Honestly, sir, the Ambassador title kind of gives me the bahoogies when it comes from anybody who hasn't got gills," Ray said apologetically. "Dr. Stantz is fine. It's an honor to meet you, sir. I'm told the restaurant here's good- did you want to talk there or in one of the meeting rooms?"

"The restaurant will do nicely. Thank you." Dr. Ndebele adjusted his glasses. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting."

"Not at all, sir, not at all. I'm sorry I couldn't have been here to meet you sooner myself." A waiter in yellow and red led them to a small table in the next room. "Although I hope you speak better French than I do."

"How on Earth did you get into the diplomatic corps without being taught French?" asked Dr. Ndebele, one eyebrow slightly raised.

"It wasn't my idea," Ray answered. "I’m a parapsychologist and an engineer by training, not a diplomat. I got called on for the position after four better-qualified people in a row quit the job. Not to mention that-"

"-fish-people don't speak French," Dr. Ndebele finished for him. "Yes, I see."

"I did spend most of the trip here plugged into a Berlitz course, for what that's worth."

"Not very much, to be honest. The dialect here isn't so easy to assimilate as that." Dr. Ndebele glanced at the menu briefly, then set it aside and reached for his briefcase instead. "We shall see… Dr. Stantz, I'd like to get straight to the point, if I may?"

Ray spread his hands. "By all means," he said. "The sooner the better."

"Thank you." Ndebele slid his glasses back up his nose again. "How much has the State Department told you about my situation?"

"Well, to start with, three weeks ago you were on a research expedition in the Lake Tele area sponsored by the University of Cape Town," Ray said. "Primatology, specifically."

"Correct. My specialty is rare and endangered primates of the Congo basin."

"Which, it said, brought you into conflict with a group of bushmeat hunters-"

Ndebele muttered something under his breath, which Ray was rather grateful not to understand. "Too kind a word for them, Dr. Stantz. These men were trappers and thieves. Their prey would have gone to the European market and no one but them would have been the better for it. I've known hunters. These men were nothing like."

Ray nodded. "They sounded like a thoroughly nasty piece of business," he allowed. "I saw in the reports that they threatened to- well, I won't repeat what they threatened, but that's an awful kind of thing to say. Was there a specific reason for that?"

"When a man with a university at his back, and the scientific community watching him, reports on the faces and operations of a group of slaughterers, it becomes very hard for the local government not to take action," said Ndebele dryly. "I could not hurt them then. I could only hurt their operation if I escaped, and told the story."

"So you weren't particularly famous, or known to them, or some kind of long-standing nemesis of theirs?"

"Only in the way that the best sniffer dogs are known to smugglers," said Ndebele. "They knew my name, but we had never met."

"Gotcha," Ray said. "Okay, then. They threatened you, you refused to back down, aaaand…. That's the point where everything went to hell, right?"

"Aptly put, Dr. Stantz." Ndebele interlaced his fingers on the table in front of him. "The vegetation began cracking somewhere behind the thugs, as if a very large animal were coming through. I have heard such noises before; you take them seriously in the deep jungle country. Elephants, hippos… you don't take chances with hippos. Nasty beasts."

"So I hear," said Ray. "The description gets a little short on details after that."

"Yes, well-" Ndebele shifted in his seat. "Dr. Stantz, I told the authorities that the trees themselves were smashed aside, and that something in the darkness began shouting words I could not understand. I said this because it was the very limit of what I thought I could say and still have them believe me. Respect for academics only goes so far, here."

Ray waited.

"Dr. Stantz… I saw the creature with my own eyes. Not much. Not for long. But it was not the Mokele-mbembe of the legends." Ndebele shifted again. "The creature was too big for that. Too big by far. The Mokele-mbembe is a beast as big as two elephants; this was larger. I saw only the head, but not one of the stories of the riverbeast say that its head was as long as a man…"

Ray whistled. "What did it look like?" he wondered.

"Like nothing I have ever seen," confessed Ndebele. "Its skin was shining, the way a hippo looks when it emerges from the water. Grey skin, or green- I could not say. The creature's very eyes were glowing- not reflecting. Glowing. I have seen enough animals by the light of a campfire to know the difference. "

Ray frowned a little, thinking. "This sounds oddly familiar," he mused. "What color were its eyes, anyway?"

"Blue, and slanted," said Ndebele. "Why do you ask?"

"Were you aware of the reports of the Frashingly-Smalth expedition to the Lake Tele area in 1922?"

Ndebele shook his head, his forehead creasing. Ray dug into his own briefcase. "According to the reports of the expedition, Lord Frashingly-Smalth set out to snag a Mokele-mbembe for his trophy wall and encountered something else. Still dinosaurian in bodyplan, mind you, but not the classical sauropod form. The one he shot at was bipedal, not unlike some of the larger species of theropod, with glowing blue- are you all right?"

Wordlessly, Ndebele unlocked his briefcase and handed Ray a sheaf of photographs. Several he'd already seen- the wrecked, burned trees, the slashes too high and too deep on the trees to be the work of machetes alone- but the last few were of the forest floor itself. Specifically, of footprints sunk into the leafmould that covered the soil.

If the measuring stick next to the three-toed impression were anywhere close to accurate, Ray was looking at a footprint left by something the size and approximate shape of a Carcharodontosaurus.
gone_byebye: (insomniac)
( The thing about dreams is that they don't really care about Earth logic. The Naked In Public dream doesn't bother providing an explanation for how you got to Times Square before realizing that you should probably consider shoplifting a souvenir pair of boxer shorts. The In Your School, Failing Your Exams dream never explains why the school has the authority to grab you and put you through finals again long after the fact, let alone why they're doing it with subjects you never studied in the first place. The Running Away Dream seldom bothers to give a reason why you're running from the horror, but starts with the hot pursuit already under way. The Flying Dream doesn't indicate why you can suddenly fly. )

( Well. Sometimes it does. )

( Ray's at Columbia, although the campus looks funny- there are renovations he doesn't remember, and buildings missing. The grassy spaces between the buildings look about right, though. Except that they're not covered in students, which you'd expect on a day like this. In fact, there's hardly anyone around. They're indoors, maybe. He's not thinking about that, in the way that you don't think about air, or about the absence of clouds on a sunny day. That's just how it is. )

( Although. Speaking of clouds... )

( This has happened before, so many times that he doesn't even need to think about it. It has a long familiarity to it, like tying your shoes or opening a can of soda. It starts with looking to the sky and wanting to check the clouds out up close. Then comes the running, because it's easier to do if you're already going as fast as you can. )

( Then comes the footstep that pushes off extra hard. )

( Then the one that lands on air. And the next one that lands on air. )

( Then, before physics can reassert itself, comes the third step, and the leg that's stepping on air is metal- cables and plates and sensors and servos, just like all the rest of him. )

( There is no fourth step. Everything
folded first. The fourth step is a roar instead, as engines powerful beyond belief roar into life and he takes off into the sky- )


"Ray? Ray, wake up." Janine's voice. "C'mon, Ray-"

"Hngh?"

"Ray, the State Department's on the phone. Again."

"... thirty seconds," he managed. Snapping into wakefulness straight out of REM sleep was hard.

Half a minute later he still wasn't entirely awake, but could at least muster a semblance of coherency. Enough, at least, to recognize the voice on the other end of the phone. "Morning, Mr. Flaherty," Ray mumbled. "What's up?"

"Ray. Hey there." Flaherty's reedy voice was far too cheerful. Ray entertained a brief unkind thought involving an IV feed and a supply of Queequeg's Extra Dark Roast. "Listen, I know you're busy with the gameshow and all, but we kinda need you to change gears for a while."

"I'm negotiating the Atlantic swordfish thing with the Deep Ones as fast as I can," Ray said, rubbing the crud out of one of his eyes.

"No, no, you're doing great on that," Flaherty hastened to reassure him. "Fantastic job there. This is something else."

"Did SETI pick up a signal or something?" Really, it was the only thing Ray could think of that would justify an emergency call like this.

"Uh. No. This is terrestrial." Flaherty hesitated. "Are you up to date on all your vaccinations? We've got a doctor on standby if you're missing anything."

"... what?"

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gone_byebye: (Default)
Raymond Stantz

February 2014

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